Branson: Behind the Mask

David Runciman writes:

Richard Branson is the mirror image of a Russian oligarch. This is not to say that where they are bad, he is good. If even half the things in Tom Bower’s new biography are true, Branson is far from being good. He is playing the same game as his Russian counterparts, but it’s the looking-glass version. Where they do their best to avoid the glare of publicity, he thrives on it. The oligarchs who got rich by seizing the spoils of the post-Soviet economy sometimes have to pretend to be poorer than they really are, so as not to rouse public fury at the scale of their heist. Branson pretends to be much richer than he really is. He loves to flash the cash, often in the form of charitable pledges and absurd boasts about future profits. He once promised \$3 billion over ten years to the Clinton Global Initiative in an off-the-cuff remark at a fundraiser. Clinton dragged him up on stage to give him a hug, many of his staff wept at his generosity and the papers reported the figure as if it bore some relation to reality, yet it was more than the earning power of all Branson’s businesses combined. Needless to say, nothing like that amount has been donated.

(LRB 20 March 2014)

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